If there is a vegetable/fruit harbinger of spring in the Pacific Northwest, it is definitely rhubarb. Graceful, firm stalks of crimson red begin to appear in Northwest farmers markets in February, long before spring actually arrives.
The first flush of rhubarb in the market is hothouse grown and typically paler in color and lower in acid tang than the field rhubarb that follows a few weeks later. But regardless of whether it’s hothouse or field rhubarb, there is no sight I long for more each spring than overflowing baskets of fresh rhubarb.
By late February, I have grown a little tired of apples and pears, those sturdy comestibles of winter. And dried fruit too, although delicious, is losing its appeal. I want the zing of fresh fruit and nothing is zingier than rhubarb.
This year, I am experimenting with new flavor partners for rhubarb and have happened upon the almost magical juxtaposition of rhubarb and cardamom. This rhubarb apple crisp combination is aromatic, exotic, and familiar all at the same time. In other words, it’s divine!
If you are new to cooking with rhubarb, check out Fresh Primer: Rhubarb to get started.
Now on to this most delectable dessert…
Spring Rhubarb Apple Crisp with Toasted Hazelnut Streusel
This crisp combines the last of the Northwest apples (from winter cold storage) and the first of the spring field rhubarb crop. It’s a perfect marriage, because the apples lend body to the crisp (rhubarb disintegrates when cooked) and the rhubarb boosts the flavor of the apples by several notches.
Rhubarb has a natural affinity for caramel, thus I am using all brown sugar for the sweetener here. Lime, cardamom, cloves, hazelnuts, and vanilla ice cream are additional flavors that work like magic with rhubarb, and they are all here in this wonderful dessert.
1 cup all-purpose flour
½ cup packed dark brown sugar
½ cup sugar
½ teaspoon fine sea salt
½ cup butter, very cold, cut into ½-inch pieces
½ cup hazelnuts, toasted, skinned, and roughly chopped or ½ cup walnuts, roughly chopped
1 teaspoon apple cider vinegar
1 teaspoon water, cold
1¾ pounds Granny Smith apples, cored, peeled, sliced (about 1 pound or 4 cups prepared)
1¾ pounds rhubarb, trimmed and sliced (1¼ pounds or 2 cups prepared)
1 cup brown sugar
¼ cup cornstarch
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
1 tablespoon finely minced lime zest (from 1-2 limes)
1 teaspoon ground cardamom
¼ teaspoon ground cloves
¼ teaspoon fine sea salt
best quality vanilla ice cream (preferably homemade or Haagen Dazs)
- To prepare Streusel Topping, in a mixing bowl, combine the flour, brown sugar, sugar, and salt.
- Cut the butter into the flour mixture until mixture is evenly crumbly.
- Add the hazelnuts or walnuts and combine well.
- Combine the vinegar and water and sprinkle over the topping. Mix lightly with a fork, using a lifting motion rather than a stirring motion. The idea is to gently distribute the moisture throughout the topping.
- To prepare Fruit Filling,
in a mixing bowl, gently combine the apples, rhubarb, brown sugar, vanilla, lime zest, cornstarch, and salt.
- To assemble and bake, butter six, individual, 1½ cup gratin or soufflé dishes.
- Divide the fruit filling between the six dishes.
- Top each dish with an equal portion of the streusel topping, and then top with an equal portion of the almonds.
- Arrange the gratin dishes on an edged baking sheet and lay a piece of foil loosely on top.
- Bake at 350º for ½ hour, remove the foil, and bake an additional 20-30 minutes, until the fruit filling is bubbling and the topping is nicely browned. If necessary, broil for a minute or so or use a kitchen torch to brown the tops.
Remove from the oven, let cool somewhat, and then serve while still warm, preferably with homemade vanilla ice cream.
More Rhubarb Recipes from LunaCafe: